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Q&A with Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU)

The CAPU team at the Plaque Removal Event in historic Denver Chinatown, joined by Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and other city officials.

Learn about the work of Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU), a coalition of Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders, creatives, and allies in Denver, and recipient of our Community Organization Award in 2022.

The group strives to enhance and enrich the Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences in Colorado, and is committed to advancing racial diversity, solidarity, and equity through collaboration, celebration, and education.

  1. CAPU is a fairly new organization. Tell us about your mission and why it was important to start this work.

Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU) evolved from the Re-envisioning Denver’s Historic Chinatown Project (fall 2020). The Re-envisioning Denver’s Historic Chinatown Project began with the aim of changing a commemorative plaque on a dilapidated building on the outskirts of Denver’s Lower Downtown area that promoted a misleading narrative of the Chinese community. Project members decided that what was needed was an organization with the broader mission of educating people about and celebrating the history and culture of Asian Pacific Americans in the Centennial State. Doing so would contribute to developing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive Colorado.

  1. Some of your earliest work has involved telling the history of Denver’s Chinatown. What do you want people to know about this history?

There are several things one should know about Denver’s Chinatown history. First, Denver’s Chinatown was the most prominent Chinese American community in the Interior West. Second, contrary to popular folklore, it was a thriving working-class community rather than a den of inequity where the Chinese inhabitants were opium addicts engaged in illicit activities. Third, it was nearly destroyed by the city’s first race riot on October 31, 1880. About 3,000 to 5,000 Denverites descended on the community to rape and pillage. It was one of the worst episodes of ethnic cleansing that befell the Chinese in the Interior West. Fourth, though it has disappeared, it is in the process of revitalization and will be part of a proposed Asian Pacific American historic district.
      CAPU has developed a traveling exhibit about Denver’s Chinatown as part of its mission to educate people. It is currently on display at the Auraria Campus library until October 17, 2022, in the Singleton Theater, Denver Center for the Performing Art foyer as part of “The Chinese Lady” show until October 16, 2022. It will be displayed in the Anderson Academic Commons, University of Denver, later in the fall.

  1. What do you think makes the AAPI experience in Denver distinctive from other parts of the country?

To the extent that people know anything about the AAPI experience, it is usually about the AAPI communities on the West and East Coasts. Indeed, people are surprised to learn that there were about 200 AAPI communities in the Interior West until they were destroyed and the people were driven out. Denver’s Chinatown was the largest in the Interior West and lasted the longest until the eve of World War II. It has not been forgotten. Concerned AAPI community members have worked with Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock to issue a proclamation designating October 31, 2020, as Denver’s Chinatown Commemoration Day to memorialize the 140th Anniversary of the anti-Chinese riot. They have worked with Mayor Hancock to also issue a letter of apology to the Chinese community for the riot, the only such letter outside of the West Coast. Their plans call for creating an Asian Pacific American historic district and founding an Asian Pacific American museum.

  1. Is there anything else you would like to say?

For further information about CAPU, please check out our social media: https://www.facebook.com/ColoradoAPUnited or https://www.instagram.com/capu_2021/. Also, check out our website https://coloradoasianpacificunited.org/. We would love to hear from you! Also, see William Wei’s essay “Reclaiming the Past, Building the Future: The Project to Re-Envision Denver’s Historic Chinatown” in History Colorado’s Is This the City We Imagined? Decisions That Define Denver (Denver: History Colorado, 2022).